By Manisha Ayyagari
With each new summer comes new opportunities to grow both personally and professionally through internships. However, this summer has not been like every other one. Throughout the past few months, many companies have been canceling their summer internships due to COVID-19. So, it is no surprise that many of our own UCF Knights are having to find ways to cope with and adjust to a new normal. Whether it’s due to the hands-on nature of the internship or a sheer lack of resources to transition the internship program to a virtual environment, the effect of this summer is still the same: a rerouting of career plans, but one that provides yet another opportunity for students to show resilience.
What impact is this having on students?
For most students, an internship is one of the most rewarding experiences during their college careers. A culmination of hard work, competitive GPAs, and thorough application processes all lead to an opportunity to experience working at a student’s dream company. These internships aim to provide students with everything from the skills to succeed in the corporate realm to industry connections.
For one UCF Knight, an internship would have provided an opportunity to gain hands-on experience and the letters of recommendation vital to making her mark in the field of education. Juliette Harrell, a senior pursuing a degree in Early Childhood Development, was supposed to get her second chance working for the Orlando Science Center where she would have been teaching in classrooms and working with students ages 0-5 during a full-time summer internship.
“I’ve been to the Science Center and I’ve seen the classrooms — I’ve actually applied for a position at the Science Center before but did not get the job. When I found out I was going to be interning there I was really excited about it, and then this all happened, and I was bummed.”
Aside from the second chance, she would have received letters of recommendation, a crucial part of the experience that could only be obtained by an employer seeing her interaction with students first-hand. This would have been Juliette’s chance to demonstrate key skills, such as being able to create a diverse classroom environment and dealing with challenging behaviors of students.
For another UCF student, Heidi Vance, a recent Spring 2020 graduate in Studio Art, the cancellation of a 10-week art conservation internship with John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art was a devastating blow. “I remember I was at my boyfriend’s apartment and was checking my email; as soon as I saw it was canceled, I got up and went to the bathroom and started crying,” said Heidi.
What’s even more devastating is the fact that this would have been her chance to not only gain industry experience but also pay for graduate school. She had just been accepted into an Art Conservation graduate program in the UK, and this summer would have been an opportunity to make money and offset the cost of tuition and an international move. The recent cancellation of this internship has had a rippling effect and has also left Heidi feeling uncertain of her upcoming graduate school experience.
“I’m not sure how it will affect the quality of education going forward, since every university is handling everything differently, and it’s kind of terrifying.”
What are students doing in response?
Creating the best out of an unfortunate situation is something at which UCF students have proven to succeed time and time again, and this summer has been no exception. Juliette acknowledges that the changes will require her to tweak her resume and references and build upon her skills elsewhere. She has already started interning with the Early Learning Coalition Institute where she is working with students in a virtual setting. This experience is forcing her to sit down and evaluate her current skill set.
“For the past few years, I’ve been preparing to work in a classroom, and now because of the pandemic, we’re not going to be working in classrooms. I now have to re-evaluate my skills and think about how I’m going to market myself,” she said.
Of these skills, she mentioned that communication, technology skills, and a willingness to be flexible during the pandemic while also maintaining professionalism during Zoom meetings were the most important, especially since she had never needed to think about them prior to this year.
Heidi has also been taking matters into her own hands to improve her marketability in the industry; she is developing her research skills as well as her involvement in discussions regarding art conservation. She has even been applying to as many internship positions as she can find and has started freelance work, where she writes art history articles for various websites. Even though the experience isn’t the same, Heidi highlighted that her freelance work has allowed her to become a better writer and improve her documentation skills which have aligned perfectly with her mindset of finding new opportunities that allow one to build upon his or her relevant skills.
What advice do you have?
While this summer has taken away many chances for students, it is more important now than ever to continue to take on this challenge and develop professionally. For anyone in a similar situation, Heidi recommends that students look for remote internship opportunities.
“I was really fortunate to be in the right Facebook groups and forums to learn about other opportunities. I also think it’s really important that if you can’t find anything, to try and find opportunities that are related in some way to your position, so you can still work it into your skillset,” she said.
Juliette, on the other hand, advises students to learn how to be flexible and just go with the flow. And in an effort to do just that, she has created a group to help support others during these challenging times. Juliette’s GroupMe for UCF moms allows others like her to meet and share their experiences and frustrations that come from navigating the career journey. Even after all of this, Juliette sees the importance of the changing landscape and the impact COVID-19 will have. Realizing the gap in virtual learning opportunities for children ages 0-5, she hopes to use an unfortunate situation and turn it into a chance to create more virtual opportunities for children later down the line in her career.
It’s no surprise that COVID-19 had drastically turned career plans upside down, but it is clear that there are many ways to make up for it. Going through a cycle of acknowledgment of loss and perseverance, UCF Knights have been able to prove once again that no challenge is too big. Whether it is learning new skills, starting personal projects, or continuing to find new opportunities, Knights are not letting the challenges of this summer define themselves or their future career plans.